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NFL will miss Rooney's presence

By Scott Brown
Thursday, March 26, 2009

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Owners spent the week congratulating Dan Rooney on his nomination for ambassador to Ireland while also wishing the Steelers' chairman well in his next endeavor.

They weren't the only ones who got sentimental at the NFL owners meetings that concluded Wednesday at St. Regis Monarch Resort & Spa.

"What I will probably miss most," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "is I can always look forward to him a little bit after nine o'clock walking into my office and providing an interesting anecdote or story that may relate to the different issues of the day, or may not. From a selfish standpoint, I'll miss that."

Rooney could be missed on a larger level.

The NFL is at a critical juncture, as no collective bargaining agreement is in place with the clock clearly ticking.

The possibility exists of the league going to an uncapped year -- there would be no checks on team spending in such a scenario -- after this season and of the owners locking the players out in 2011.

Rooney, whom one owner called the "patriarch" of the league, has long been a key figure in labor issues. Ironically, his ability to reach across the negotiating table and forge common ground may take him away from the NFL when it needs him most.

Both qualities are why his recent nomination by President Obama was widely hailed -- maintaining peace in Northern Ireland is one of the top priorities for the ambassador to Ireland -- though owners generally acknowledge that world diplomacy's gain could be the NFL's loss.

"Now the team's in very good hands with Art (Rooney II) as the (team) president," Bears chairman Michael McCaskey said. "I don't worry about that for a second, but Danny's always been terrific as far as a level head in the collective bargaining area and we need to fashion a new labor agreement. We will miss him there."

Dan Rooney has declined comment about how active a role he'll maintain with the Steelers and the league because he needs confirmation from the Senate before assuming his new post.

Art Rooney II, who took over as Steelers president in 2002, has remained tight-lipped on the subject for the same reason.

"We'll just have to deal with things as they come," Rooney II said.

While his father has been one of the NFL's most visible owners, Rooney II has maintained a considerably lower profile. That will change if Dan Rooney becomes ambassador to Ireland.

The position is anything but a ceremonial one and would require Rooney to spend the bulk of his time in Europe.

Several owners, however, said Rooney II has enough experience in dealing with league matters that assuming a more prominent role won't be too much of a leap.

"Art's been actively engaged for a long time, so I don't see that as an issue," Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said.

Plus, McNair added of Dan Rooney, "He still has a telephone. He can still call."

There will be plenty for Rooney to monitor back home, when time permits, and not just with the Steelers.

Meaningful negotiations on a new CBA haven't begun. The players' association did not elect a new executive director and successor to the late Gene Upshaw until earlier this month.

Both sides, meanwhile, have not given any indication that they will budge from the positions they staked out long ago.

The owners, citing rising operating costs and tough economic times, want the players to accept less than the 60 percent of gross revenues they were guaranteed in the last CBA. The players maintain that they shouldn't have to take what is essentially a pay cut, because the owners are making enough money.

Rooney has been instrumental in orchestrating compromise between the owners and players in the past. He could soon find himself in the unique position of trying to broker peace on separate fronts, though his main focus will be on Ireland.

"He won't be far away, and I know the commissioner (Roger Goodell) wouldn't hesitate to talk to him," Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said. "I think even though he won't be there on a day-to-day basis and he'll be missed, he'll still have an influence on us for sure. He really is our patriarch of our league."

Soon enough, he figures to be a long-distance one.



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